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Physician Appointment Wait Times Up 30% from 2014

By John Commins  
   March 21, 2017

It takes an average of 24 days to schedule a new patient physician appointment in 15 of the largest cities in the nation, up from 18.5 days in 2014.

Despite Boston's dense concentration of physicians, it takes more than twice as long the average national waiting time to schedule a new patient appointment, according to a new survey from physician recruiters Merritt Hawkins.

The 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates queried 1,414 physicians' offices in 15 major metro markets across the nation and found that Boston's average wait time of 52 days was the longest for five medical specialties, including:

  • 109 days to see a family physician
  • 52 days to see a dermatologist
  • 45 days to see an obstetrician/gynecologist
  • 45 days to see a cardiologist
  • 11 days to see an orthopedic surgeon

James S. Gessner, MD, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, says the Merritt Hawkins findings are consistent with MMS's in-house physician workforce studies.

"We've always had rather long wait times, but we also have universal healthcare with 97% of the citizens in this state covered by health insurance," Gessner says. "I can only expect that it might get a little pronounced at this point."

The Nursing Shortage? It's Complicated

Gessner says that more medical students are gravitating toward primary care, but that the wait times probably won't decrease anytime soon because there is a "pipeline issue."

"It takes five or six years for those people to appear on the scene," he says. "We are expanding the primary care residencies at a number of our teaching hospitals and that is a very good sign, but we still would have significant shortages in the other specialties with significant waits as well."

Gessner says other more immediate strategies to alleviate wait times include the use of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in a "team-based care" model, and telemedicine.

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.

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